Tonight, the Washington Capitals (25-19-3) host the defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins (31-13-2), in their final game before the All-Star break. What makes the Caps 48th game of the season so intriguing is not necessarily the teams, but the soap opera surrounding Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, and Caps superstar Alex Ovechkin.

Yesterday, the MVP of the Stanley Cup Finals was purposely absent from attending the White House, and the proverbial visit with the President for winning an American Championship. The reason, Thomas doesn't believe in the political views of the Barack Obama administration.

Thomas’ decision has created an uproar that can be seen on CNN, ESPN, and just about every news outlet in between. I will keep my political views aside, but however you feel about what Thomas did, watching different fan bases in two countries reaction when his name is called in arenas around the league should be fun to watch.

The Capitals will be without the services of their superstar tonight when they take on the defending Stanley Cup champions. The Great 8, Alex Ovechkin was suspended by the NHL for the next three games because of a hit to the head of Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek in Sunday’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Pens in Pittsburgh.

Ovechkin spoke to the media just hours ago about the hit and also announced today that he would not be attending the All-Star game this weekend in Ottawa. Ovechkin’s decision not to play was supported by Caps General Manager George McPhee.

“My heart is not there. I got suspended, so why I have to go there?” Ovechkin said. “I love the game, it’s a great event, I love to be there but I’m suspended. I don’t want to be a target. I feel I’m not deserving to be there right now. I got suspended, I have to be suspended, so that’s why I give up my roster [spot].”

Ovechkin and McPhee were both disappointed by the length of the three-game suspension, and feel that Ovechkin’s status as a repeat offender is unjust. Ovechkin has been fined twice and suspended twice in his career prior to this three-game suspension. The fines were a result of a slew foot against Rich Peverley in 2009 and boarding against Danny Briere in 2006. The suspensions both occurred in the 2009-10 season and resulted from a knee-on-knee hit against Tim Gleason and a hit from behind on Brian Campbell in Chicago.

The most controversial of them all, was the hit to Campbell. Many thought Campbell was falling down, and Ovie caught him as he was falling.

“We’ve come to a place where we think rules for hits are clearer. I think there was some gray in the past,” McPhee recently told reporters. “That’s why I was disappointed in the suspension, because he’s considered a repeat offender. I don’t believe he should have been suspended in the past for at least one of those hits.

“The one in Chicago, he outweighed the player by 50 pounds. It’s not his fault and there was a lot of gray there,” McPhee continued. “We’ve cleaned up the gray and it’s clear what we’re trying to do, but I think that was a factor in the decision and I don’t think it should have been and we made that case yesterday.”

In what is a move that will disputed all weekend long, Ovie's decision not play in the All-Star is a correct one in my view. If the NHL is willing to suspend Ovechkin for three games, and take a stand in what they believe is the right penalty for his hit, than good for Ovechkin for taking his own stand, and not letting them make money off his appearance.

Ovechkin can now attend the vacation he was planning to take, and then canceled during the break after the NHL named him an All-Star early last week.

CAPS OF FEATHER SKATE TOGETHER, NOT TONIGHT:

Nicklas Backstrom is scheduled to miss his 10th game since suffering a head injury from the elbow of now Canadiens forward, but then the Calgary Flames Rene Bourque. Tonight will be the first contest since Jan-31, 2006 that neither Backstrom, nor Ovechkin will appear in uniform for Washington. One or the other has been in the line-up every game since last day of January almost six years to the day.

Of course, from 2005 until the start of the 07-08 season, it was just Ovie until Backstrom came to town.

LOOKING BACK:

Washington dropped a 4-3 decision to their Eastern conference rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday.  Washington fell behind very early in the contest, as the spotted the Pens a 2-0 lead before the six minute mark of the first period. Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang scored first at 4:51 into the opening frame, and James Neal added the second marker 1:01 later.

Washington did not panic, and neither did Caps goalie Michael Neuvirth, who kept his team in the game with some sparkling saves. Behind goals from Brooks Laich (9), and Alexander Semin (12), the Capitals would tie the contest at two goals apiece headed into the third period.

Alex Ovechkin gave his team the lead with his 20th of the season off a beautiful cross ice pass from Semin. Ovechkin one-timed the shot which Pens goalie Marc Andre Fleury had no chance to stop.

With Sidney Crosby out of the line-up, Evgeni Malkin, or Geano as he called in the steel city has teamed up with James Neal to lead the Pens offense, and the two who were responsible for the Pens second goal, would tie the game as Neal got his second of the contest with 12:53 remaining.

Malkin, who got the primary assist on Neal’s first goal, would again receive the primary helper on his second. The dynamic duo weren’t finished as the two teams headed to overtime with the game tied at three.

Just 1:31 into the extra session, Neal returned the favor and assisted on the game winner, as Malkin beat Neuvirth to send the Caps home with one-point, and a loss. Since Crosby has gone down again with concussion like symptoms, Geano has been on fire.  He has 17 goals and 34 points in his last 20 games after starting the season with nine goals and 24 points in his first 21 contests. Malkin also has nine multiple-point games in his last 20.

TONIGHT’S CONTEST:

Shooting the puck and getting shots on goal has been an issue for the capitals lately. So has scoring. Washington has been shut out twice in their previous four games after starting the season scoring at least one goal in 43 straight contests.

Without Ovechkin and Backstrom, the Caps will find it tough sledding tonight against the Bruins who are one of the top defensive teams in the NHL.  Ranked third, the B’s have allowed an average of just 2.09 goals per game this season. However, they have allowed 28 goals in their last nine games (3.11 per game). 

This is the first of four regular-season meetings between these two clubs this season.  Washington went 1-3-0 last season against Boston, earning a 5-3 win on Nov. 5 and dropping a 3-1 decision on Oct. 19 at Verizon Center. Boston won both games on home ice, 4-1 Oct. 21 and 3-2 Dec. 18.

The Caps trail the all-time series, 42-64-21-, entering the 136th meeting tonight, and are 23-28-12-4 at home. The Capitals will need to take advantage of any power play opportunities they get tonight with their two top scorers if they are going to beat Boston. However, a resurging power-play has once again hit a power outage, and their penalty killing has not been much better.

Washington is just 1-for-15 (6.7 percent) with the extra man in their last five games, and they are 27-for-36 (75percent) on the penalty kill in their last nine contests. Washington has been outscored on special teams by a combined 7-1 in its last five games.

Scoring a power play marker and not allowing one usually means victory for head coach Dale Hunter’s squad. The Capitals are 16-6-0 this season when they scored a power-play goal, and are 11-1-0 when scoring a power-play goal and not allowing a goal with the man advantage.

KEEPING IT CLOSE MAY BE A GOOD IDEA:

The Capitals may have another advantage over Boston despite not having Ovie and Backstrom tonight. The Bruins are playing their third game in four nights, and if Boston is sluggish, the caps are good in one-goal games this season.

Four of the last seven Capitals’ contests have been decided by one goal with Washington going 3-0-1 in those four games. The Capitals are 12-5-3 in one-goal games (.600), tied for the sixth-best mark in the NHL in that category.

The Caps are also a great team this season when leading after two periods. The Capitals are 15-0-0 this season when leading after two periods, one of just five teams that have not lost when leading going into the third period. Washington’s 51 third-period goals are tied for sixth in the league, and the only period this season (other than overtime) in which they have not been outscored.

The Capitals will be helped by the return of center Marcus Johansson, who missed Sunday’s game with an illness. Johansson scored his 10th goal of the season on Jan. 18 at Montreal and has now tied his point total from last season with 27 points (10 goals, 17 assists). Johansson has already set a career high in assists and game-winning goals (3) this season and has nine points (four goals, five assists) in his last 12 games.

BRUINS REBOUND AFTER CUP HANGOVER:

After their upset win over the Vancouver Canucks last season in the Stanley Cup Finals, Boston opened with just three wins in their first 10 games (3-7), but has since been the best team in the NHL.
Boston is 28-6-2 in its last 36 contests, and have nearly outscored the opposition by a 2-to-1 (123-65) margin in even-strength scoring this season.

The Bruins are the NHL’s top offensive team this season with 3.54 goals per game. They are led by 20-year-old Tyler Seguin, who was the most heralded second overall pick in the history of the NHL.

Selected by the Bruins behind Taylor Hall, many will remember the 2010 NHL entry draft as the year of Taylor and Tyler. The Edmonton Oilers chose Taylor Hall first leaving Seguin to the Bruins.

While Hall outplayed Seguin last season, Tyler won the Stanley Cup, and has used his playoff performance in which he scored seven points in 13 games to propel him this season. He leads the B’s with 42-points, and 18-goals. He is fourth on the team with 24-assists, and oh by the way, in case you were wondering, Taylor Hall is second on the Oilers this season with, you guessed it, 42-points.

Boston has seven players with 30 or more points this season. In comparison, the Caps have just three players over 30 points.

Boston is tough on the road at 15-6 this season. The Bruins have the fewest regulation losses on the road in the NHL and the fewest total road losses in the league as well. Boston’s had had winning streaks of 10, seven and four games this season, accounting for two-thirds of their victories on the season. The Bruins are currently 3-2-1 in their last six games.

The Caps enter play tonight second in the Southeast, with 53 points, one point behind the Florida Panthers. Washington is still the eighth and final seed in the Eastern conference. The Bruins are tied with the New York Rangers atop the Eastern conference with 63 points, but lead the Northeast by four points over the Ottawa Senators. 

team media reports were used to write this preview